If you?re a high school student studying astronomy and your local skies are too polluted with light for star gazing or if you can?t afford a good telescope, let your computer do the skywatching for you.

Ryan Hannahoe punches coordinates on a keyboard, then waits for a telescope under the New Mexico skies to swing toward the dramatic dust cloud marked on astronomical charts as B33, the constellation Orion. Where he lives in Pennsylvania, city lights make such observations impossible.

Hannahoe is a 16-year-old sophomore at Schuylkill Valley High School who helped create the Student Telescope Network. ?This is a big move for amateur astronomy,? says Hannahoe. ?Amateur astronomy is dying because of light pollution. There are not that many kids involved. The typical school has nothing at all, they look at a picture in a book. Here, we’re taking a picture and doing actual research, which is really cool, basically learning to be an astronomer.?

Using a computer to look at the sky is what professional astronomers often do, when they use automated facilities built in remote corners of the earth or, in the case of the Hubble telescope, in space.

Hannahoe worked with professor Robert Stencel at the University of Denver, the Software Bisque astronomy software company and the New Mexico Skies astronomy resort to develop the student network. In a pilot project that started in February, about 500 student groups from the United States, Canada, Mexico, and as far away as Australia and China have used it.

Software Bisque, in Golden, Colorado has been working with New Mexico Skies to create a remote telescope network to lease observing time to institutions such as universities and community colleges for astronomy teaching, as well as to amateur astronomers on an hourly basis.

Mike Rice, owner of New Mexico Skies, says the service will be especially valuable for schools in urban areas with skies too brightly lit for observatories to function. New Mexico Skies is far away from big city lights: 100 miles north of El Paso, 160 miles south of Albuquerque, 16 miles from Cloudcroft, N.M., population 592, ?with a mountain range in between,? and three miles from Mayhill, N.M., with a population of nine. ?There are not shopping centers in Mayhill,? he says. ?We have a very dark location with pristine skies … and 260 clear nights a year. You see the center of our galaxy ? the summer milky way ? and more stars than you?ve ever seen in your life.?

?Ryan and I over the past two to three years have been conspiring about ways to get more young people more access to telescopes,? says Stencel. ?A lot of students have trouble seeing a constellation, let alone an object such as a galaxy. In big cities, light pollution can be a big issue. It sure is great to be able to observe from the comfort of an office rather than being up on the roof freezing.?

To reach the Student Telescope Network,click here.To reach New Mexico Skies,click here.To reach Software Bisque,click here.

See news story ?Light Pollutes Too?,click here.

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